Illustration by Đàm Minh Chí
Nguyễn Đức Thành, a student of Hà Nội – Amsterdam High School for the Gifted from 1992-95 recently proposed eliminating the model of gifted public schools or privatising them to lessen the pressure on students nationwide.
The proposal sparked a heated public debate in recent days.
Thành, former director of the Việt Nam Institute for Economic and Policy Research, under the Việt Nam National University, saw the school’s student enrollment list with an overwhelming number of candidates who had scored 10 the highest and rarely-given score in the Vietnamese education, wanted to apply to the school this June. The list was reported in an article by Lao động (Labour) online newspaper.
Thành laid out his reasons for eliminating or privatising the school.
First, currently, the Stage budget currently spends about 2.5-2.7 times more on each student's education at the school annually than it does on average across other schools in the capital, per calculations taken from Hà Nội’s budget allocation for 2017-20.
“It’s unfair,” he said.
The model for the gifted school would be only acceptable if it was a private school, where wealthy parents paid all the fees for their children.
Second, there were many kids who had scored 10 on the list, meaning many parents may have to bribe school officials so their children could get scores of 10 to meet requirements of the school.
Last, the school was set up in 1985 to train talented people to serve the country after a long period of war, a role that was no longer necessary.
Some people agreed with Thành, but many others said his opinion was a bit extreme.
Don’t privatise, make adjustments
Professor Nguyễn Minh Thuyết, Editor-in-Chief of the curriculum for comprehensive education reform, spoke out against the proposal.
Thuyết said the school had successfully trained many talented people to serve the nation since its establishment and added that any educational institution had struggled at one point or another. Thus, we should not think of eliminating or privatising it due to troubles like high State budget spending and possible bribery.
The school should be privatised only when the State can't continue funding it, he said.
Some opposed the model of a gifted school because they said it would lead to students having to mainly study some select subjects, he said.
Thuyết argued that focusing on select subjects would train talented people in specific fields that were very necessary for scientific research later.
Thuyết advised that to fix the troubles, the school should reform its training model into a high-quality school so it can train students more comprehensively.
Nguyễn Tùng Lâm, president of the Hà Nội Association of Psychology and Education, said the goal of a gifted school was to train talented people for each locality and the whole country.
“So, it is easy to understand when a gifted school is given priority in investments of facilities and teachers compared to a normal school,” he said.
Lâm recommended adjusting enrollment and training methods instead of eliminating or privatising the school.
Kim Ngọc Minh, a former student of the school, said it was not realistic to eliminate a system of gifted schools.
“It would be better to make adjustments instead of elimination,” he said.
Relevant agencies were advised to survey all gifted schools in the country before making adjustments in the future. There was an American book Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools that the agencies could refer to, he said.
Nguyễn Thị Thu, co-founder of Tsubaki Kindergarten, said gifted schools were still necessary and they should be reformed instead of being eliminated.
Thu said it was a matter of pride for many parents who wanted to send their children to the gifted school.
The more candidates applied for the school, the more criteria were issued to select the best candidates, she added.
However, the criteria had caused the parents to put their children in a race to get high scores and awards, she said.
Then negative issues, such as parents doling out bribes to boost their kids' scores, would appear, she said.
Thu said privatisation was not the solution to the root of the problem, she said.
“The most important thing is that parents need to change their mindset to select the most suitable educating environment for their children,” she said.
As a former student of gifted classes, I agree with Thuyết, Lâm and Thu. Privatisation of gifted schools would not be a good thing as most Vietnamese have low incomes, even though investment in education from families has improved to a degree.
Privatising gifted schools would mean tuition fees increase. It would also mean talented but poor students would lose the opportunity to study at the school. If all gifted schools across the country are privatised, only children from wealthy families could study there.
Some developed countries, including the UK and the US, still have public gifted schools for talented children.
What should be done here is to reform the enrollment and training methods of the school. National and international medals should not be placed on the top priority of the school. The school’s training model should be redesigned to train talented students to do research to serve the socio-economic development of the country. — VNS